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Recovery of Adult Stem Cells from Intestinal Tissue
Research involving stem cells is a very exciting field, with promises of treatments for a variety of diseases and conditions that have few or no available treatments. Genetic disorders, cancer, injury, and other diseases could all possibly gain new therapeutics based on research performed on stem cells. The isolation and use of stem cells from embryonic tissue is very contentious, as some find the process to be morally questionable. The use of induced pluripotent stem cells, which are mature adult cells that have been reprogrammed to a more stem cell like state, and adult stem cells is met with less controversy. However, it might not be possible to develop these cells into as great a variety of mature cells, and, outside of stem cells from bone marrow, they can be difficult to isolate. While bone marrow stem cells have been used for many years to help patients replenish blood cells, it is unlikely that they could be used to produce cells for other types of tissue.

Adult stem cells isolated from specific tissues could potentially be used to help treat problems in those tissues. Studies have been performed in mice showing that tissue-specific stem cells can be isolated. Research using mouse adult stem cells has provided scientists with a basic understanding of stem cell biology. This research is an important first step to evaluate the usefulness and basic development of adult stem cells. Mouse studies are also needed to learn mechanistic information about how stem cells function. Indeed, many important advancements have already been made from studies conducted with mouse stem cells.

However, there have not been as many studies performed on human stem cells. These studies would ultimately be needed in order for stem cell therapy in humans to become available. The differences between the biology of mouse stem cells and human stem cells have prevented researchers from developing therapeutics for humans. Isolated human adult stem cells are needed to help translate the information gained from mouse studies into information that can potentially be used for human therapeutics.

Recently, researchers from the University of North Carolina, were able to isolate adult stem cells from human intestinal tissue for the first time. This is important, as it will allow researchers to study human stem cells, including how they develop, how they differ from mouse stem cells, and how they can potentially be utilized for therapeutics. These tissue-specific adult stem cells could be used to treat disorders that cannot be treated by bone marrow derived stem cells. The human intestinal stem cells are already being researched as methods to treat gastrointestinal disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or to help cancer patients whose guts have been damaged by chemotherapy.

The researchers had previously isolated intestinal adult stem cells from mice, and successfully grew the cells in culture. They obtained samples of intestinal tissue from gastric bypass surgery patients, and began by trying to determine if the same techniques used to isolate stem cells from mice would work with human tissues. In mice, the researchers found cellular markers, termed CD24 and CD44, on stem cells. These markers were the same on human stem cells, which helped speed up the isolation process. The researchers were able to tag cells from the intestinal tissue samples with fluorescently labeled antibodies against the CD24 and CD44 markers. The cells were then isolated using a fluorescence activated cell sorter, a machine which can detect the presence of specific fluorescent molecules on the surface of the cells, and separate them from other cells lacking the fluorescent molecules. Using this technique, the researchers were also able to identify populations of active stem cells and reserve stem cells. This was exceptionally important, as researchers are currently trying to determine how reserve stem cells can be called in to replace active stem cells that have been damaged.

The isolation of adult stem cells from intestinal tissue is an important step forward in the journey to treating human diseases. Adult stem cells may soon be isolated from other tissues. As more and more types of stem cells are isolated, more advancements will be made in understanding how to use the cells in therapy. This could provide novel treatments for many patients that have had few if any therapeutic options.

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